Getting pulled in
Powerful, inspiring, and emotionally compelling narratives guide actions and help people find their place and potential contributions in the world.
Sustainable development goals (SDG) Transformations Forum
I am continuously struck by reality. The reality that we, humans, have all the solutions we need to ensure flourishing, alleviate oceans of suffering for all sentient beings and answer pressing emergencies such as climate. Despite this, consistently, we act too slowly. In many ways, we seem beholden to old outdated ideas and practices—and inbuilt conservative aversion to change, no doubt. Yet, in the face of how creative, imaginative, innovative and entrepreneurial humans are, this is too simplistic an answer.
Look deeper and we are storytelling creatures. Mythical stories from our past have great salience. Dominant narratives, for example that humans are economically rational and we are always seeking to maximize our own benefit, endure despite abundant evidence that we are far more than this.
Consequently, as we are seeking to transform, seeking to answer things such as the climate crisis, unnecessary inequity and opportunity for women across the world, it’s time to write ourselves new stories about the future. A part of such new stories is archetypes. These are patterns of unconscious ideas—cultural understandings, largely subconscious. The concept is that these are close to invariably present for individuals and we constantly use them to make sense of information.
That’s clearly a little difficult. If we keep making sense of the world through mostly unconscious frameworks it is likely we will not move, not shift in ways that benefit ourselves and all around us, as quickly as we could.
We could think of some archetypes as strong attractors. Today’s strong attractor archetypes may include:
- American exceptionalism—in the sense of the history and mission of the country give it superiority which should be globalized.
- Homo-economicus—humans are economically rational, self-interested individuals and we will always prioritize ourselves.
- Neoliberal business—efficiency, reducing costs, is a singular key to success.
- Masculine/feminine—privilege action, ‘strongman’ with ‘the answers’ style leadership.
Strong attractor is from the sense that our whole systems keep trying to evolve towards these conceptual ideals and that this is true regardless of where we are starting out.
We stay relatively close to these archetypes even when we are disturbed. For example, working as a sustainability practitioner for decades it was always curiously hard to shift the foundational view that environmentally beneficial actions have business (economic) costs. It didn’t even matter when we collaboratively put together a major project (500 home residential development) with a 70% smaller ecological footprint. It had the same capital cost as conventional housing and dramatically lower operational expenses. The developer would still say, sometimes, ‘we’re doing all this environmental stuff even although it will cost us more money’ going back to the neoliberal business ideal. That was regardless of the cognitive miss-match with the project he created.
With that background, what are regenerative, thriving, strong attractor archetypes? What might drive shifts—describe current, somwhat unseen, and near and present futures—in ways that we continuously evolve towards them?
My shortlist for such potential structures is:
- Metamodern—human stage development is creating a step-change for society. Business that enables and creates greater respect and care for all sentient beings will out-compete modern-day thinking and its limited economic structures.
- Quantum social entanglement—we are already seeing success derived from holistic entanglement. We’re connected to all, and with all life, so we will not advantage ourselves unnecessarily at the expense of the other: this is starting to define more successful strategies.
- Elegant attraction/emergence—universally we create and will continue to create structures that are more than the sum of their parts from diversity. The next iteration of such emergence seems to include collaborative enablement: it is a nonsense to win in a way that is pushing us/our world to extinction.
Critically, if these are mostly unconscious strong attractors, talking about them should help us accelerate postive changes. We’re inevitavly influenced by the modern world, by the known and familiar, the manners in which we most commonly understand information around us. When something is influential but largely unseen it inhibits our capabilities. These old archetypes are likely to limit our abilities to respond in caring, future-oriented ways, to more quickly develop thriving sustainable living.
In the sections below there are some more explanations and examples of successful action. My hope is that holding these strong archetypes more consciously will assist greater and faster shifts to address emergencies such as the climate and injustice.